A local freshman has created a Black Student Union at the Red Wing High School to combat underrepresentation and give a voice to the unheard. The union had one member in the beginning, but now 12 students participate weekly and they have high goals.
After seeing a lack of Black culture and representation within her school, Deyahni Cooper started organizing.
“I just wanted to have a spot where other kids in high school can have a space to feel wanted and feel like they have a voice,” Cooper said. “ All throughout elementary and middle school I was either the only Black kid in my class or the only other Black kid. When I got to high school, I was like, whoa there are a lot more kids like me here. But, like, they were all in different classes even though I really wanted to talk to them. So I just wanted a spot where we could all feel welcome.”
After collaborating with Principal George Nemanich and Assistant Principal Jason Kjos, the Black Student Union had its first meeting in early October 2020 with one participant. As the school year ends, 12 student members and four adult mentors participate weekly.
“The BSU provides people an opportunity to extend their education on Black culture, promotes inclusiveness, and gives us a voice we did not have before,” Kjos said. “We strive to learn about African American culture in an effort to educate our students, staff, and the community.”
The Black Student Union recently had its first fundraising event at the local Applebee’s and Cooper said it was a great success. They have received over $250 in monetary donations from different community members within the last week.
“We are receiving a lot of community support, which helps a lot,” Cooper said.
“Our main goal is to help create future leaders, help us improve in our life skills and give us a voice in our community, so that we can take those skills into the future and apply them,” Cooper said.
The union also has three smart goals for grant opportunities, four objectives to help accomplish within the high school and multiple field trips in the works.
Increase the support of African and African-American students attending Red Wing High School in academic achievement and personal growth.
Improve and provide new programs and services designed to create a campus environment that recognizes the benefits of cultural inclusivity for all students.
Instill a sense of pride and appreciation for our culture and heritage.
Increase Black student recruitment, enrollment and retention
Increase Black staff recruitment, enrollment and retention
Aid in developing “cultural competency” standardization among administration and faculty
Link students with agencies in the community for volunteer work
Visit the George Floyd memorial to meet the artist
Visit Minnesota History Center to learn about Native American boarding schools and heritage
Visit a historically Black college
Visit a Minnesota State college
Attend the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Banquet
Attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities National Conference
“So those are some pretty high lofty goals, but I really feel like this group has what it takes to reach these goals, and, and be successful in the short term and in the long term I know they're going to be successful in whatever they do,” Kjos said.
For now, the Black Student Union is focusing on recruiting more members for next fall and encourages any students who are interested to reach out to them.
“We want to give everyone a chance to be involved and feel welcome,” Cooper said.